One of China’s most spectacular attractions, this UNESCO World Heritage Site has been written about by literary superstars like Lǐ Bái (李白), has been depicted on rice paper canvases from the horse hair brushes of famed artists, and has even been the inspiration for classical melodies by some of the nation’s top musicians. Huangshan in many ways isn’t just a must see attraction; it’s required for anyone yearning for the best that China has to offer.
Mount Huangshan’s jutting granite peaks were formed about 100 million years ago and were chiseled by powerful glaciers throughout the years. Along with this special, one-of-a-kind rock formations, it’s also famous for its peaks that rise above the cloud line, the rare Welcome Pine (Yíngkè Sōng; 迎客松) that magically graces the rocky expanse and the legendary sunsets and sunrises.
Avid hikers might be turned off knowing that all of the routes are lined with stone steps (the first ones dating back 1,500 years ago), but they shouldn’t be since a brisk climb to the summit at 1,800 m (5,900 ft) is still quite challenging, especially on the mountain’s notoriously slick conditions. Conversely, others will be happy to hear that there are cable cars, many pit stops for food and drinks, and a never ending chain of workers who carry heavy bags of supplies up and down the mountain all day – you’ll be amazed by what good shape these guys are in!
Depending on your physical health, time constraints and preference, there are several ways to explore Mount Huangshan. At the time of research, there were 140 sections open for visitors, but in all honesty it’d take several days to see the entire complex, so plan accordingly and read the information in this chapter carefully before taking off.
Huangshan’s climate can really damper your trek. Locals claim the area gets more than 200 rainy days a year, while there always seems to be a dense fog that rolls off the mountain slopes. For those seeking the prized sunrises and sunsets, this can really hinder your view, and if you’re planning on taking the steps all the way up, believe us when we say that these millennium-year-old vertical steps are sharp and slick!
Spring is misty and cloudy, summer is rainy and warm, fall is the ideal season to come (though crowds abound), and winter is frigid and snowy. Even during the hottest months, the temperature rarely surpasses 20 °C (68 °F), so bring a jacket (preferably a rain jacket) and maybe even a change of clothes in a backpack. It’s also advised to check the weather forecast before taking off.
There are plenty of places to grab food and snacks on the mountain, but it still might be a good idea to bring a bag with some extra water and food since some of the distances between outposts are long, especially on the west side.
Wear comfortable shoes (tennis or hiking boots will do), and don’t feel shy about purchasing one of the wooden walking sticks along the way for a few RMB. A walking stick truly does wonders, even on the mountain’s steps; you’ll be surprised how much energy your body will save using this prehistoric device.
Buses from Huangshan City will drop you off in the town of Tāngkǒu (汤口) at the base of the mountain. In Tangkou, before (or after) your ascent, stock up on supplies at the markets, have a good meal at some of the local restaurants, and find a hotel for the night. There is also a nearby hot springs (wēnquán; 温泉; ¥240) where you can bathe in a coffee, alcohol and/or wine infused luxury hot spring, or get a massage.
The mountain is divided into two halves: the Eastern Steps (the easiest climb, but still no cake walk) and the Western Steps (much steeper and more challenging). From Tangkou, take the shuttle bus to Yungu Station (Yúngǔ Zhàn; 云谷站) for the eastern route entrance, or the Mercy Light Temple Station (Cíguānggé Zhàn; 慈光阁站) for the western route entrance.
There are also cable cars at both of these entrances that will beam you up to the summit faster than you can say Scotty: the Yungu Cable Car (Yúngǔ Suǒdào; 云谷索道; ¥80) is on the east side, and the Yuping Cable Car (Yùpíng Suǒdào; 玉屏索道; ¥80) is on the west. Once on the summit, a third, called Taiping Cable Car (Tàipíng Suǒdào; 太平索道), will bring you right past Purple Cloud Peak at 1,700 m (5,577 ft).
The Eastern Steps are just a wee bit easier than the western ones. A hike from the base at Yungu Station to the top at White Goose Ridge (Bái’é Fēng; 白鹅峰) at 1,770 m (5,807 ft) will take the average person just under three hours. While the Eastern Steps are easier and quicker, they lack the breathtaking beauty seen on the western slope.
The east is where the majority of tourists prefer to trek, so during peak season the crowds can create a real traffic jam. There are plenty of rest stops for food, drinks and even a siesta along the way, making it much more convenient than the west.
The steep, sheer, and at times staggering ascent on the western side begins at the Mercy Light Temple Station and, after a while, forks off into various directions. Some of the peaks you can reach from the western slope are:
Lotus Flower Peak (Liánhuā Fēng; 莲花峰) 1,873 m (6,145 ft) – Usually closed off to the public.
Heavenly Capital Peak (Tiāndū Fēng; 天都峰) 1,810 m (5,938 ft) – Sometimes closed.
Aoyu Peak (Āoyú Fēng; 鳌鱼峰) 1,780 m (5,839 ft) – It actually kind of resembles two turtles (so they say).
Bright Summit Peak (Guāngmíng Dǐng; 光明顶) 1,841 m (6,040 ft) – Offers the best views of distant Aoyu Peak.
Lianrui Peak (Liánruǐ Fēng; 莲蕊峰) 1,776 (5,826 ft) – A summit that’s named after significant animals in Chinese folklore.
If the Eastern Steps aren’t enough, and the Western Steps are just a little too strenuous, try something in the middle by starting at the Front Gate (Huángshān Dàmén; 黄山大门). The Front Gate eventually leads to the Eastern Steps, but it’ll add an extra few hours to the hike through an enchanting forest. For the whole shabang, start at the Front Gate, hike up the Eastern Steps, spend the night on the summit, then descend down the Western Steps.
Once you’ve reached the top (either by cable car or by walking up the eastern or western routes) the hardest part is over. From there on out, the mountain turns into a mix of various trails leading you to different peaks, lakes, forests or other pristine natural phenomena. Some recommended sites on the summit are:
The Refreshing Terrace (Qīngliáng Tái; 清凉台), close to Beihai Hotel, is the best place to view Huangshan’s one of a kind sunrise and sunset over its signature sea of clouds. It’s a once in a lifetime experience that presents more than its share of photo opportunities to make all your Facebook friends jealous.
If Beginning to Believe Peak (Shǐxìn Fēng; 始信峰) doesn’t make you a believer of Huangshan’s grandeur, nothing will.
Purple Cloud Peak (Dānxiá Fēng; 丹霞峰) is best seen from the Taiping Cable Car.
Cell Phone Rock (Shǒujī Shí; 手机石) is a millennium-old rock formation that eerily resembles that thing in your pocket that you need to turn off so you can truly appreciate every second of Huangshan.
Take the hike for 9 km (5.5 mi) in the Xihai Gorge in the West Sea Canyon (Xīhǎi Dàxiágǔ; 西海大峡谷, aka Illusions Scenic Area) and check out the exquisitely turquoise Heavenly Sea (Tiān Hǎi; 天海), surrounded by a gigantic granite peak backdrop. There are two entrances: the northern one is near the Pianyunlou Hotel and the southern one is by the Baiyun Hotel.